Wednesday, November 30, 2016

It's That Time Again...

Time is flying past, much faster than I would like most days.  It's strange how slow it passes when we are children and how quick it becomes once we have children of our own.  This past year is no exception - didn't we just finish putting away last year's holiday decorations?  I'm almost certain the summer went by in the blink of an eye!  And here we are again, with the next Christmas season upon us.  

This year marks the fifth year of our Advent bag tradition.  The kids expect it now (in a joyous way) and I enjoy planning activities for us to do together.  I have left a lot of the art projects out now that they are both in school (SO many beautiful pieces of artwork created there!) and create so much art on their own (seriously, our hallways is covered in art projects, all in various stages of completion).  I'm partially doing this because I tend to set myself up for failure in this department.  I never make it through that many pre-planned art projects in one month.  I tried to make this year's activities more about doing things together and being together.  Most of the creating activities are to prepare gifts for friends and family.

And so, without further ado, here is this year's list of Advent activities:

1 - Make cranberry and orange garlands for the tree.

2 - Visit the town Christmas parade.

3 - Make a gingerbread house.  We have tried to make these from scratch and it has never worked for us.  This year my mother-in-law picked one up for us at Micheal's when they were 75% off.  Cheaper, easier, and hopefully less tears for all involved.

4 - Make St. Nicholas cookies.  Planning ahead here and making the gingerbread cookies for St. Nicholas's day on the weekend, when we have more time at home.  We usually make a few large cookies in the shape of St. Nicholas himself and then a variety of other gingerbread cutouts.

5 - Hot chocolate with extra marshmallows and a Christmas movie.

6 - Celebrate St. Nicholas's Day!  We write letters to St. Nic, read all of our St. Nic books, leave out carrots for his horse and cookies for him, and leave out our shoes for him to fill.  During the night, he will come and leave a small gift in each child's shoes and a return letter, reminding them to share their light and love to all throughout the season. 

7 - Make cinnamon applesauce ornaments.  It's a pretty simple recipe - mix loads of cinnamon with a little applesauce until a workable dough forms.  Add a little Elmer's glue to help it hold.  Cut out shapes and bake at a low temperature (maybe 250?) for two hours.  We use some on the tree and the rest to make a mobile for each kid in their room.  The smell of these ornaments while baking is HEAVENLY.

8 - Make grandparent gifts.  Sorry, it's a secret!  

9 - Make a snowman shaped pizza and watch a family movie!  I'm hoping to find the original cartoon version of The Grinch.

10 - Cookie baking day!  We are planning to give teachers and friends cookies as gifts this year, seeing as they are a meaningful, but affordable gift.  I'm keeping this day completely clear on our calendar to allow us the full day for baking.  The plan is to make two or three types of press cookies, sugar cookies, and possibly some fudge.

11 - Visit the live Nativity.

12 - Make Christmas popsicle stick puppets.  My kids love making stick puppets.  For a while we had them all over the apartment.  We have all the needed supplies - large popsicle sticks, paper, markers, sequins, buttons, maybe even googly eyes, etc.  I have a few ideas to show them to get them started, but I think they will take this one and run with it.  We may turn some into gift tags or ornaments.

13 - Tochterchen's choice.  Tochterchen asked for a day where she can come up with her own Christmas craft.  She's quite the creative little one and loves leading artistic endeavors.  I'm excited to see what she come up with.  She will make a great teacher one day if she keeps this passion.

14 - Make gingerbread pancakes for breakfast!

15 - Drive around town to see the lights!  We usually make a mug of mac and cheese for the kids to eat as dinner while we spend the evening driving around viewing lights.  The kids always say this is their favorite activity.

16 - Make Christmas soaps.  We've done this for at least four years now.  I don't actually know how to make soap, but I purchase organic melt and pour soap and essential oils.  The kids help chop the block of soap into smaller pieces, we melt it over medium heat, and add our desired scents.  Sometimes we add dried rosemary or lavender, but sometimes we don't because the herbs tend to settle at the top only.  We pour the melted soap into (Christmas) jello molds I found at the thrift store.  This activity is another of our top favorites.

17 - Family fun day!  The hope is to take the kids ice skating in Roanoke (first time skating for both!) and then go to a hockey game.  We'll have to see if the weather cooperates and I'm still trying to find coupons to help lower the ticket cost.  When I tried to purchase online the added fees were outrageous - over $5 in fees for $11 and $8.50 tickets?  Ugh.

18 - Make Christmas candles.  Last year for Christmas Tochterchen gave me the supplies for making candles together.  We still have a ton of wax and scents, so I think we are going to use these as gifts for others also!

19 - Make salt dough mittens.  This is a day I'm baby-sitting, so this could easily all fall through.  But if I can pull it off, I thought this would be a cute project to do with the other kids also.  Besides, there HAS to be a handprint activity every year.  Moms love to look back on how small their little hands once were.  I almost teared up seeing Tochterchen's itty bitty two year old handprint ornament going up on the tree.  How was she ever that small?  She's now the same height as her brother - a whooping 50" and has bigger feet than him! 

20 - Make pinecone birdfeeders.  Another favorite around here.  Cover pinecones in peanut butter and roll them in birdseed.  Attach a string and hang them from the trees.  The kids love to share the Christmas spirit with our backyard wildlife also.

21 - Family fun day!  No one else in the house knows it (shhh!) but I purchased two hours of bowling and a pizza on Groupon.  I think we'll make it an afternoon activity, rather than evening, but who knows.

22 - Hot chocolate and a Christmas movie.  Looking for a good Christmas movie for the whole family - any suggestions?

23 - Make s'mores in the fireplace with Mimi and Papa!

24 - Open one (pre-selected) early gift.  We bought a new family game for the kids and I thought we could enjoy a little family game time before on this day. 


This is the first year Mannchen can read the tags in each bag, so I guess I have added accountability.  In the past, when the day has gotten away from us, I just make up something easy (hot chocolate!  movie!) and let go of the plan.  I have all the busy crafting days carefully planned around babysitting and other activities.  It's all written in my planner and supplies have been pre-purchased!  It will be interesting to see how it goes this year!  

Blessings to all for a joyous Advent and Christmas season!  Do you have any Advent traditions or plans for this year?

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A Walk in the Woods

Thankfully, the kids have semi-regular early release days.  All too often I don't take advantage of the extra hours to our afternoon.  However, for the past two early releases, I have been trying to make the most of our time.  This week we spent the afternoon hiking on a familiar trail near my parents' house.  

There is an abandoned coal mine just off the trail.  Along the trail you can see lots coal - small pea size "gravel", small chunks, and in the hill side you can even see large pieces of coal.  I loved how the roots of a tree grew over this large piece.

October is definitely over in this area of Virginia.  Most of the trees have lost all their leaves and I'm hoping that the frosty mornings are here to stay.  

Jumping for joy over long afternoons together.  Can every day be an early release day?  Please?

My kids have never liked to move quickly.  Walking and hiking with them when they were little was painfully slow.  Now that they are older, overall hikes move much quicker, but hiking can still be slow moving.  I try so hard to be mindful of how important it is for them to have the time to take in the details of the world.  Our hike was by no means a long one in mileage, but we were out in the woods for about three hours.  We went way off the beaten path to explore and we took the long way to the abandoned mine.  I think they spent 45 minutes playing on and around this makeshift bridge.  They cleared a lot of leaves that had collected in the area and played with the simple innocence of childhood.  I have to bite my tongue in moments like this - I'm always a bit eager to move on to next thing.  Continually, my children remind me life is not lived in the results.  Life is lived in the process.  Slow down.  Don't rush.  Just be.

Sunday, November 13, 2016


This season of the year always seem to help us slow down.  Fall soccer has ended, the sun goes down earlier, the temperatures are (hopefully) beginning to drop, and without fail around this time of year the germs begin creeping in, forcing nearly everything to really slow down.

We celebrated Martinmas on Friday - complete with watercolor lanterns and fall baking for friends.

Mannchen was diagnosed with pneumonia last Wednesday.  We have spent a lot of time reading, crafting, playing games, and to be honest, watching TV.  I cannot fully put into words how much I have enjoyed seeing a shift in the kids through more time at home.  The bickering subsided and the creativity increased.  I haven't seen them play together like they have recently in months, maybe years.  It reminded me so much of our preschool days.  I wish I could hold onto that gift of time and peace.  It's a great reminder to keep our weekends open for time to be, not activities outside the home.

The extra time at home also gave me a chance to do a little extra baking.  I tried a new recipe - pumpkin cinnamon swirl bread.  I will bake this again ASAP.

They even initiated some cleaning, together, cooperatively.  AMAZING.

I always feel the deepest love for my children, but lately I can't quite put words together to describe how filled I am with gratitude for these two children in particular.  They are growing so quickly and quite honestly, I don't like it.  I can't slow down how quickly they are growing, but that doesn't stop me from wishing I could.  

So, instead, I'll just focus on the gratitude that dwells in my heart.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Patience is a Virtue

Patience is a that I do not possess much of.  I try to control my anticipation, but ultimately it's just not my strong point.

Since I can't be over at our new house working every day, I have to find other ways to keep myself busy.  I have plenty of finishes to ponder over - at some point I will probably be on a first name basis with everyone at Lowe's and Home Depot.  But ultimately, I need to keep my hands busy, not just my mind.  Today I found myself with an extra afternoon, so I put together these two DIY pieces to go on the walls of our new home.  Truth be told, I thought they may go at the end of our current hallway, but it turns out that we just don't have a large enough space for now. time we will have more wall space than ever.

I found this old interior shutter at the Restore a few weeks ago.  I removed the extra hinges, sanded it down, and painted it with chalk paint.  Then I added a thin piece of wood that I painted with chalkboard paint on one side and a section of chicken wire (left over from our short stint with chickens) on the other.  It's probably not all that practical, but I think it will make an adorable addition on the wall as decoration.  We can stick little notes or photographs in the chicken wire and write fun message on the chalkboard.

I didn't waste any time turning yesterday's trash into treasure.  I sanded down the piece of wood I found under the section of floor I removed at the new house.  Using wood glue, I glued all the loose pieces back in place, and used a little wood putty where needed.  I painted the whole piece with chalk paint.  When I saw it all painted, I really didn't like it.  It's not a new piece - it is truly an old piece and it needs to look that way.  I randomly sanded spots to make the paint look worn before adding the top coat.  I'm so disappointed we don't have a place to put it up right away, but I am looking forward to finding the perfect place to display it when we move.  It's a sweet little accent.

So there you have it, one more afternoon of keeping myself busy with smaller projects since there are no big ones to complete.  

How do you keep yourself busy when you are anticipating great things?  

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Fixer Upper!

Well....this is a little bit crazy, but we're buying a house.  We love Blacksburg and we feel fairly confident that the hubby will be able to find a job here when he finishes school.  So, why not go ahead and buy a house here?!  

Of course, that idea came along after we stumbled upon this little fixer upper, mostly by mistake.  The hubby's bike blew a tire, which meant I had to go pick up his bike and happened to turn down a road I don't typically go down.  I saw a cute home for sale and felt compelled to call the number on the sign.  When I called, the agent told me more about the home and the conditions of the sale due to an affordable housing partnership between the town and Community Housing Partners.  We went to see the first house I saw, but it turned out to be too small for us for the long run.  However, the agent told us he had a larger home, also in the program, available nearby.  We went to see it, liked it, applied for the program, qualified for the program, qualified for the loan, and now here we are under contract on our very own little fixer upper in the heart of Blacksburg.  And as more time passes, the more we love this little place!

This is the house from the street.  It's narrow, but is deep.  It was built in the 1940s as two apartments - one upstairs and one downstairs.  CHP is doing all the renovations, but we get to be a part of the process.  Part of our deal is that we have to put in 110 hours of work in the home before closing.  We also get to help with some of the design/finish selections.  It is truly a dream come true!  We get an older fixer upper home, but we also have a company that is seasoned with construction overseeing that all the major systems of the house get a complete renovation!  I am so excited about getting in there and working!  Today I did a little demo and LOVED it.

Since it was built as two separate units, the house needs stairs!  No stairs yet, but there is a giant hole that will eventually have stairs!

The upstairs bath - not much there right now.  I love seeing everything gutted!  There are two bedrooms upstairs - one on each side of this bathroom.

Standing in the upstairs hall, looking towards the front of the house.   You can see the hole for the stairs.  The kitchen will be where the framing is on the left (which will eventually be opened up).  Between the kitchen and stairs will be the dining area.  The living area will be to the right.

The house has TWO fireplaces.  TWO.  This is the upstairs fireplace.  The living room area upstairs is small, but we'll figure out how to make furniture work here.  And it has a fireplace.  I'm so stinking happy about that.

Standing at the front door, looking at the kitchen - or lack there of.  The walls will eventually all be removed, but first a metal I-beam will be installed in the attic for support.  The kitchen will be expanded some, but will be L-shaped with a large island.  A kitchen island - seriously, my dreams are coming true.

This is the downstairs family room.  It is much larger than the upstairs living room space.

Do you see that?  The second fireplace.  Oh how happy this makes me!  

There's a room at the back of the house that seems added on.  It has a wall of windows, but not much usable space.  I think we will make it our art room for now.  The kids and I are so excited to have a designated space for creativity!

One of the downstairs bedrooms.  These are our kitchen cabinets.  They were in the downstairs kitchen.  They are custom made and in great condition.  We're excited to have such well made cabinets!

The other downstairs bedroom - it's just missing a wall or two and all of it's flooring!  Like I said, this house is a major fixer upper.  The second bathroom is on the right at the end of the hall.

Standing on the other side of the bedroom with missing walls (essentially where the stairs will come down).  You can almost see into the future laundry room (the bathroom is closer to where I am standing, also on the left) - another exciting change for us.  After over three years with no washer and dryer we are so ready to have our own again.  My mom and dad may be even more excited!

Today I did our first project at the house.  I removed a section of wood flooring from the storage area.  The contractor wasn't sure what was underneath - dirt or concrete?  Turns out it was concrete, but for some reason before building the framing and floor, someone decided to throw wood scraps into the space.  I found this beautifully shaped piece of wood.  I don't know what it was, but I saw it and knew I had to bring it home to clean it up.  Some of the scrolling was falling off, but I found the pieces.  This will definitely find it's place on a wall of our new home!

We have months of work ahead of us and probably won't move in until April, but we are so happy to have a new home.  We have really missed being homeowners.  Our little apartment has served us well and we will honestly miss it.  700 square feet has been a perfect space for us in many ways.  We love being close to one another.  It keeps our family close and we can't sweep issues under the rug. We've also been forced to stay exceptionally organized and careful about what we bring into our home.  But the lack of storage of any kind is really getting to us and we feel like it's time for the kids to have their own rooms.  It's going to be a big change to move into a home so much larger than our apartment.  Change is always a combination of exciting and scary.  I know that with time, our love and comfortable style will fill this larger home with the same coziness we've filled this small space with!